Title: You Were Never Really Here
Author: Jonathan Ames
Genre: Novella/Crime Thriller
Number of Pages: 112
Even though the film adaptation of this novella with Joaquin Phoenix is more well-known than the book itself, I haven’t caught up with watching the movie yet. I’m interested in seeing what Lynne Ramsey did with this story, and considering how short the book is I would imagine that the movie might actually have more to it. Anyway, You Were Never Really Here is a brutally violent and cynical story that also serves as a good character study of it’s tormented anti-hero, Joe. I was never quite sure what to make of Joe. He doesn’t truly seem like a sociopath, but he’s very comfortable with violence.
We learn early on that his father sadistically abused him when he was a child but whatever his reasons, he seems to have something missing upstairs. He hates himself and constantly fantasizes about suicide, but he stays alive so he can fulfill his sole purpose in life, which seems to be saving young girls from being sex trafficked. He’s paid by desperate parents to do whatever’s necessary to save their daughters from predators, and he’s willing to do things that are extremely illegal to achieve his goal.
Joe has no friends but he does have a few people he genuinely seems to care about, including his mother. When he is given the mission to save a politician’s teen daughter from sexual slavery, things go farther down the rabbit hole than even he possibly could have imagined. The very thing that threatens to destroy his life and everyone who matters to him nevertheless ends up consuming him completely.
This novella was darker than dark and there was really no hope for humanity to be found anywhere in the story or the characters. It moves quickly and maintains a detached use of third-person POV in it’s narrative, but it still effectively pulls you into Joe’s psyche and how every day for him just being in is head is torturous. I even felt for him a little bit, even though maybe I wasn’t supposed to. The main thing I didn’t like was the ending, because it felt like it ended in the middle of the story.
Things still weren’t resolved and I thought as far as Joe had gone and as much as he had suffered we should have gotten to follow him to the end of the line. I mean, obviously things were never going to end well for him but in a way that seemed even more reason to get to see him accomplish his goal (or possibly die trying.)
I guess I understand why the author ended it where he did but I still felt cheated. I also would have liked more of an exploration into Joe’s backstory, since a lot of the defining events in his life were narratively a little patchy. I still thought overall it was an engrossing read that could easily be finished in one sitting, and there was some really good use of details in there despite it’s breakneck pace. People who like books about the dark side of human nature and that feature ambiguous, violent protagonists will find a lot to like here.
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